The Pause That Refreshes: Timing In Comic Book Art

October 22, 2009 at 1:10 pm (Uncategorized) (, , , , , )

HarveyPekar1When you look at many how-to books on comic books, they focus on how-to draw characters, landscapes, buildings, as well how to arrange panels, or on the types of materials to use.   Timing is also important, just as its important in a novel, a poem, or a good joke.  At a recent talk at Madison, Wisconsin’s Overture Center, Harvey Pekar said that at an early age, he wanted to be a class clown.  He wanted to break up everybody with one liners and stuff.  He developed sketches by memorizing stories.  Instead of telling a story for one time to 50 people, he said, he told the story 50 times to an audience of one.   “You get more laughs that way”, he added.  His sense of pacing, he said, came from listening to radio comedians like the underrated Bob & Ray and from Jack Benny.

How do you translate the timing of radio comedy to comic book art?   Pekar said he likes to use dialogue-less panels to set up for the last line.  Imagine, for example, how you would draw Jack Benny in his bit where he tells of being approached by a mugger.  The mugger points a gun and asks, “Your money or your life!”  Benny pauses, presses his index finger to his chin, and responds, “I’m thinking . . .I’m thinking!”   This scene could be carried out over many panels with dialogue evident in only two of them.   Each of the wordless panels heightens the expectation of what’s to come.   Just like a good book or film, you never tire of it.

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